A number of readers sought my opinion on the recent wave of police shootings and civil unrest this month.
I hadn’t planned to write anything about this topic, as much of my opinion on Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the police can be found in a few articles I’ve already posted:
I’ll highlight a few excerpts to underscore certain points and introduce a few new ones.
BLM will go nowhere until they win the hearts of Middle America.
BLM struggles to effect change for two reasons:
1) Demonstrations that alienate potential supporters.
2) A dubious platform and role models with credibility problems.
1) Demonstrations that alienate potential supporters
MLK Jr., despite all of his peaceful marches and demonstrations, did not make much impact until he was able to win the hearts (and minds) of Middle America. You will not swing the silent majority through shows of violence, traffic jams, and other nonsense that brings disorder to the lives of average joes. You will only manage to turn off the very people whose assistance matters most. You have to use data, poignant stories, and reasoned arguments to state your point. Incentives drive our decisions: show people what’s in it for them.
This past Saturday, on the anniversary of the Freddie Gray incident, protesters in Baltimore blocked traffic on a highway, drawing the ire of the entire city.
Did you think about anyone else before you did that?
Disrupting political rallies, public disturbances in restaurants—great for grabbing headlines, but terrible for advancing the cause. These acts lend credence to critics who would dismiss BLM supporters as quasi-anarchists, enemies of law and order.
BLM protesters have co-opted civil disobedience demonstrations of the past—sit-ins etc.—and (incorrectly) assume they can be deployed with similar efficacy by their members.
Social traction has been hard to obtain because of…..
2) A dubious platform and role models with credibility problems.
The checkered histories of the old guard have hampered efforts for years. BLM leaders need to raise standards.
A glance at the lives of both Philando Castle and Alton Sterling suggests they were less-than-fitting representatives of any social movement, especially one that posits that cops are summarily-executing blacks without justification.
(I know that Castle and Sterling’s personal histories have nothing to do with evaluating their individual cases. That information is useful for providing context.
The kind of person who continuously flouts the law is the kind of person more likely to experience violent confrontations with the police; questionable judgment begets struggle.)
Civilians have to understand that the cops are on high alert when out on call, especially if they know they’re dealing with an armed suspect. Police officers have a right to protect themselves too. Not fully-complying with an order—getting on the ground, following their orders to the “T”—is dangerous.
A frightened cop is a dangerous cop.
In those situations, your best option is to give officers as little reason to fear for their safety–and that of others–as possible.
(Just being a black male puts cops on edge. Fair or not, people have to be sharp enough to factor this in to how they interact with the cops.)
There’s evidence that both Castle and Sterling may have disregarded police instruction at some point, however subtle. The police were responding to a call from a man at the scene who alleged Sterling had a gun. Sterling resisted arrest to some degree on the video; that was a mistake.
Some critics allege the police might have accosted the wrong man. Even if that were the case (it’s unlikely, given that they recovered a gun from Sterling and the civilian who made the call described a man matching his description), is resisting arrest a wise decision when dealing with police officers?
Is physical resistance more or less likely to get you killed than getting ‘cuffed and fighting your case in the legal system?
BLM can still wrest some value from the deaths of Castle and Sterling–beyond pushing an agenda–by using them as examples of how to protect yourself while dealing with the cops.
That’s the message we should be pushing, the importance of risk management in dangerous situations.
It’s a directive more likely to preserve life than pretending we live in a world where mouthing off to cops, however justified, carries no consequence whatsoever.
If black lives actually matter, there shouldn’t be any resistance to this.
There are rules to the game. Ignore them at your own peril.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Change is a product of understanding one’s fellow man, creating incentives that encourage certain behaviors. Any ideology that doesn’t factor in the needs and wants of others is doomed to fail.
This goes for parsing law enforcement policy as well:
Cops doing dirt is nothing new.
They should be held to a higher standard because of the power bestowed on them by society, but what actually happens in reality is far different.
Why is police misconduct a recurring issue?
A lot of the blame for why the police operate with impunity falls on citizens. Hero worship, the same enjoyed by members of the military, discourages intellectual honesty.
Cops will not change because society does not force them to.
The police are human, prone to the same cognitive failings as you or I; act accordingly.
Government-sanctioned discrimination was a visible target in the Civil Rights area. Faced with the injustice of Jim Crow, most Americans could get behind the heroes of the 20th Century.
Thanks to the efforts of Civil Rights leaders of the past, overt institutional racism has been greatly reduced.
Critics of BLM can point to the hypocrisy of denouncing the police for relatively-rare incidents of police-related fatalities versus the epidemic of black-on-black crime that remains unabated.
Some quick mental math:
There are millions of people in this country, participating in dozens of interactions with family, friends, co-workers, police, and passersby every day.
That’s billions of total interactions in this country every year.
Now, match that up with the 1000 or so interactions that result in police-related fatalities we see each year, a statistic I won’t even bother to parse for instances where civilian culpability was a proximate cause of death.
Police-related fatalities are a fraction of a percent of the total interactions in this country every year, a blip on the socio-economic radar.
The reason these police brutality cases seems so common nowadays is Availability Bias, fueled by disparate media coverage.
And to those who might say, “Well, one instance of a police-related fatality is too many.”, I’d say this:
We live on planet Earth, a space populated with billions of imperfect creatures called “humans”. The type of society that would eliminate all instances of civilian or police mortality would require the surrender of freedoms that provide the quality of life we (often) take for granted.
In China, people are jailed for expressing ideas that clash with government ideology.
Now, imagine a society with 100X that level of organized scrutiny and central planning. That’s the environment we’d need to engineer if we wanted to reduce violent crime—police-sanctioned or otherwise—to zero.
It’s idealism at its worst.
If you’re a black male living in a bad neighborhood, you’re much more likely to be offed by another black male than a police officer, a fact cited by many Americans when asking BLM why they are so silent about the thousands of black-civilian-on-black-civilian fatalities.
The BLM message would be easier to stomach if their outrage wasn’t so selective and shamelessly self-serving. Our time is better spent exploring the factors that surround black-on-black crime than indulging the “Cop-as-Racist-Overlord” narrative floated by BLM and their supporters.
Again, I’m not arguing that racism doesn’t exist or that police are without fault. It’s a question of degree and prevalence. Anyone who wants to drags us back to the 50’s is doing the whole country a disservice, belittling the accomplishments of leaders of the past.
In the face of anti-police rhetoric, many police precincts are scaling back patrols in high-crime areas, creating real-life “Hamsterdams” where criminals are operating with impunity. Police presence, however flawed, is most critical to the very areas BLM activists likely call home.
The most readily-available solution to these problems remains a long look in the mirror before pointing fingers at anyone else.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown offered a practical solution to bridge the gap between the police and community activists: protesters can join the force. Become examples future generations can look up to.
Get in the game. Hit the streets.
So, how can we produce effective public campaigns?
1) Provide clear information on the problem, including reasons why people need to join the cause. Use incentives.
2) Present specific actions for participation that further the cause, including easy access to donation links and support for policies that actually move political and economic levers.
3) Routinely examine strategy and tactics, assessing how much progress has been made and whether the current course of action is appropriate for the scope of the problem. Adjust accordingly.
Until BLM reworks its plan of attack, they’ll remain stuck in neutral.